Researchers from Google's quantum computing division say they have successfully created “time crystals,” a previously theoretical state of matter that could completely revolutionise computers.
Crystals, such as diamonds and snowflakes, or the ones you see in yoga teachers’ houses, are naturally-occurring objects that have a repeating pattern at the atomic level.
But those patterns repeat in space. If the Google researchers’ findings are correct, they have created objects with a constantly-repeating pattern in time.
Plenty of things have a repeating pattern in time – a watch face is an obvious example – but time crystals repeat without having to be wound up or plugged into a battery. They are essentially perpetual motion machines.
Perpetual motion is against the laws of physics, as we currently understand them, but the crystals synthesised using Google’s ultra-powerful Sycamore quantum computer don’t seem to be too bothered by the laws of physics.
Nobel prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek first theorised the existence of time crystals in 2012, but their rule-breaking properties earned him a lot of criticism in the science establishment: “I took a lot of grief,” he says.
Several research groups have been on the trail of the elusive formula for Time Crystals for several years.
Microsoft’s Station Q group have come close, and Norman Yao at the University of California, Berkeley, published a blueprint for making the repeating crystals in 2017.
But the preliminary announcement from Google, which is yet to undergo full peer-review, claims that the company’s team has not only created a time crystal, but that the process which produced it is scalable – meaning that can make as many as they like.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that – assuming that the Google announcement stands up to peer-review – this is a total game-changer for computers.
A working quantum computer that can switch the states of its components without using any energy could open the door to true, self-aware, artificial intelligence and innumerable technological developments beyond that.
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